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Foreign 'investment' homes leave woman facing bankruptcy
9:53am Tuesday 1st April 2008 in News
When Tamsin Barks came through a tough divorce battle, she knew she needed to secure her long-term financial future. But a string of bad investments has now left her facing the prospect of bankruptcy.
Reporter Miles Godfrey discovers why she believes her story could now happen to anyone.
Tamsin Barks was a solvent and hard-working vet for more than 20 years.
In fact she was the model professional with two children, a husband and plenty of cash in the bank.
But after a rocky period in her life, which involved separating from her husband, Mrs Barks became caught up in a damaging downward spiral following a series of catastrophic investments.
She claims thousands of other people could now find themselves caught in the same trap.
Her story began in 2003 when she took up the offer of a seminar with Surreybased investment advisers Inside Track.
They persuaded Mrs Barks, of Roundhouse Lane, Lindfield, to take out mortgages worth more than £1.1 million to buy seven homes in Britain, Florida and Spain.
The technique it recommended, called "flipping", seemed simple and promised to make her a fortune.
Flipping involves buying architects' plans for homes and then selling on the completed property at a profit just before the keys are handed over to the owners.
However five years on, Mrs Barks faces the prospect of a £300,000 material loss plus the ongoing expense of maintenance costs.
She said: "I really do believe this could be the next Northern Rock, maybe not quite as big as that, but the fact is there are thousands of people out there who are clients of this firm.
"Many of those will be or will end up being in the same situation as me, I believe. They will be in grave financial difficulty.
"I've lost everything I've worked and saved for, including a £150,000 inheritance from my father. I'm taking in a lodger and I've had to borrow from friends to pay the school fees.
"I'm scared I'll go bankrupt. I thought it was too good to be true, and I wish I had stuck to my instincts. But I was on my own, and vulnerable.
"Property investment seemed sensible, it was bricks and mortar - not some fly-bynight financial deal - and I could understand it."
Of the seven homes Mrs Barks bought, the worst performer has been a two-bedroom flat at Duquesa Village on the Costa del Sol, which she bought for £211,000 and which Instant Access said was a discount on its true value.
The property was described as being a "stone's throw" away from the sea, when in fact it was a lengthy walk.
Mrs Barks, who now works as a self-help guru, is also furious that the price of a flat in Manchester's Knott Mill development, for which she paid £172,500, is recorded at the Land Registry as £203,000 - a figure said to be totally misleading for other buyers at the development.
She has since managed to sell one of her flats, near Orlando in Florida, for a profit of 18 per cent, but after taking all her costs into account she has actually lost about £20,000.
Inside Track and its sister company Instant Access Properties, which Mrs Barks dealt with directly, refute her claims.
Tony McKay, the firm's managing director, said: "As Ms Barks wishes to sell her Spanish properties immediately, it is possible these may be put on the market at a price the same as, or below, what she paid.
"We regret this, but this is why we advised all our investors that now is the wrong time to sell assets in Spain.
"Her numbers are blatantly wrong. One US property showed a $100,000 gain in 2006; a second a valuation $112,000 above her purchase price in 2007.
"One has been sold at a gross profit.
"The situation in Spain is challenging.
We have advised investors this is the wrong time to sell.
"The phrase stone's throw' would commonly mean close-by - an 800m walk would fit this. We are working with her to sell the Manchester property.
"We educate clients how to make money in a tough market by exploiting the pressures developers are under to negotiate keener deals. Her desire to sell runs counter to everything we teach. Property is a medium to long-term investment.
"We really do want to help her and have worked well beyond any legal requirement to do so.
"However, selling takes time, particularly to achieve the best possible price. We devote an extensive section to risk at our two-day seminars.
"We do not invest client funds or recommend specific opportunities. Nor do we promise or guarantee any returns. We offer clients a broad range of potential opportunities from which to choose. We do not make this decision for them."
At the moment Mrs Barks makes about £3,500 a month from rental income on the homes. That leaves her with a shortfall of at least £1,500 a month, and worried she may be forced to sell her Sussex home and live in a caravan.
She was lured by an advert - subsequently criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority - promising to make her "completely debt-free within three to five years".
She paid £2,500 for a weekend course in 2003 and then, early in 2004, took out mortgages totalling £650,000 and spent £950,000 buying seven homes through Inside Track's sister company, Instant Access Properties.
The company's sales literature claimed Mrs Barks would be able to make "35 per cent plus capital growth within two years"
on her Spanish property alone and that she could let the properties for £840 a month.
But she added "Rentals there are 600 euros (£460) a month and my mortgage costs 800 euros (£612) a month."
Mrs Barks is now planning to sue Inside Track and wants other people who have been similarly affected to get in touch with her. She said: "I know there are plenty of others out there."
Mrs Barks can be contacted on 01444 452279.